Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is one of a number of medical disorders that is largely misunderstood by the general public. In fact, the nature of CFS is such that too many people believe it’s not real. I want you to know that CFS isn’t just in your head. If you are suffering from all of the classic symptoms of this debilitating disorder, it can be diagnosed and treated.
Like fibromyalgia, CFS was virtually unheard of – at least as a clinical diagnosis – 30 years ago. Even 20 years ago, the medical community was slow to accept the legitimacy of CFS despite mounting evidence of its existence. A lot has changed since then.
Modern medical science accepts the reality of CFS and similar issues. It is estimated that CFS now affects some 250,000 people in the UK alone. The financial costs associated with treatment and lost productivity is in the billions annually. The good news is that we are getting better at identifying CFS and treating it appropriately.
The Primary Symptoms of CFS
As a private rheumatologist in London, I frequently diagnose CFS in patients presenting to my clinic. Some are dealing only with that one condition. Others come to me because they are suffering from concurrent conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and so forth.
If you believe you are suffering from CFS, you should exhibit at least several of the most common symptoms. Obviously, extreme and persistent tiredness is the number one symptom one would notice. Other symptoms include:
- joint or muscle pain
- sore throat or glands (without swelling)
- cognitive problems (memory, thinking, etc.)
- feeling dizzy or flu-like symptoms
- heart palpitations.
Extreme and persistent fatigue combined with any of the other symptoms is reason enough to see a rheumatologist. Note that there is no test we can run to definitively identify CFS. Instead, diagnosis is made through observation of your symptoms and ruling out other possibilities.
Coping with CFS
I view CFS in much the same way I view fibromyalgia, in the sense that I firmly believe it doesn’t have to define who you are. CFS can be managed in such a way as to help you cope with the symptoms while still living a full and productive life. That is what I focus on at my London rheumatology clinic.
One of the first things I recommend following diagnosis is that the patient consider making certain lifestyle changes. For example, getting enough rest is critical to proper management. I might also discuss the need to better understand your limitations so that you don’t overdo things.
As for treatments, there are a number of options. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is recommended by a lot of doctors. This is a talking therapy that helps patients understand what they are going through so that they can better manage their thoughts, emotions, and decisions.
Exercise is another option and one that is better than you might think. Though too much exercise may exacerbate CFS symptoms, moderate exercise will actually strengthen tired muscles and increase energy levels. Just as a side note, exercise is helpful for so many physical maladies. We all need to get more of it.
Note that with proper management, most CFS patients improve over time. Symptom flare-ups are also not uncommon. If you think your symptoms may indicate CFS and you would like to know more, I would be happy to see you at my clinic.